Hacking the Car Buying Process

car buying hack“I’m taking a blood-bath on this car!” the salesman confided in me after we closed the deal. We had agreed upon $2000 UNDER invoice. That’s invoice folks (dealer cost) and $4700 under the sticker price (MSRP).

I bought a brand new 2016 model in the first week of the year. The salesman said the next day the car would be a couple thousand dollars more expensive and no one would be able to get anywhere near the price I got.

How did I get this deal? I hacked the car buying process using the strategy on this website. Let me walk you through my latest car buying experience in detail.


How I Decided on a Car

First I set my budget (between 30-40k) and thought about the type of car I wanted. I wanted an SUV to handle wintery roads, but I have a very small garage. So I settled on a crossover with all-wheel drive (AWD).

I started my search on TrueCar and Edmunds to research different types of crossovers online. And being a little over zealous, I ended up test driving almost every type of crossover.

Test Driving

The first thing I remembered when test driving is that it takes a long time! It took me at least an hour and a half per test drive. And that was with me being blunt and interrupting salesmen before they could get through their whole sales spiels. I had to whip out every test driving trick in the book to get out of those sales offices.

Aside from learning how the car drives, I used my test drives to find out each manufacturer’s option packages and colors. When I later got prices on the Internet from home, I knew exactly what package to ask for. I found some dealers had the car I wanted in a bad color… or the color I wanted but with literally $600 in extra’s pre-installed that I didn’t care about. Things like “splash guards” and a $105 emergency medical kit that I could have bought a Target for $8. So I took notes in my phone as to what packages I liked and which were available at each dealership.

Ultimately, after a lot of test drives and online research, I narrowed down to the 2016 Infiniti QX50 (Touring package) and the Acura RDX (Advance package). I actually did multiple test drives and settled on the Infiniti because 1- It felt better to drive and 2- It was the cheaper of the too. Again, the email negotiating process is a lot easier if you decide on a specific make/model/trim before you start.

Timing – When I reached out to car dealers

Now that I knew exactly what car I wanted it was time to start the process of reaching out to car dealers. I started getting prices right before the end of the month.  In my case, it was December, the very best time of the year to buy. As it turned out in 2016, the 1st of the year fell on a Friday so dealers extended their financial year to Monday January 4th which gave me a few extra days.

Avoiding car dealer spam and telemarketing

Before I got any prices I setup a new yahoo email account I knew I would never use again (gmail, Hotmail, etc all work too). This step is critical so that you don’t get spam forever AND so that you can easily organize all car dealer responses in one place without cluttering up your normal email.

For some reason I can no longer remember, this time around I decided to use my existing phone number. Huge mistake! I got flooded with telemarketing calls for months. So instead, I recommend you get a Google phone # and use that when you ask for car prices.

Finding car dealers email addresses

I then got car prices from each of these websites until I reached 9 dealerships. I tracked contact information and price quotes for every dealership in a spreadsheet. Some of the dealers I found were well over an hour’s drive from me, but that’s ok because I was willing to drive to save a few hundred dollars.

Within a few hours of submitting my contact information, I began to get emails from car dealers. I’ll be frank and tell you the vast majority of the responses I received were complete garbage. Most were advertisements for dealerships without any specifics for the type of car I requested. But that’s ok and I’ll tell you why in a second.

For now, here are some funny examples so you can see what to expect:

Car Dealer Email Replies

Dealership #1: Hi, we're closed!

My thoughts: No helpful information whatsoever! Why do I care if their dealership is closed? Just email me when you have something to say.

Dealership #2: You're time is Valuable…remind me what you're looking for again?

Car dealer email reply 2 My thoughts: I love the statement “we know your time is valuable”. If it’s so valuable, why didn’t you email me the quote I already asked for? I already told you the color and trim I want.

Dealership #3: These cars aren't what you asked about, but look at the pretty pictures!

Car dealer email reply 3 Car dealer email reply 4 My thoughts: The interesting thing about this email is that not one of the cars they gave me pricing on was configured according to the specifications I asked for. And they gave me a price later, so it’s not like they didn’t have my desired model in stock!

Dealership #3 (again): Just a reminder, we still don't have your price quote ready.

Car dealer email reply 5 My thoughts: The same guy as the previous example sent me a second email with no other usable information.

Dealership #4: Our dealership is awesome! Read these irrelevant bullets

Car dealer email reply 6 My thoughts: They’ve got a lot of fluff about how great their dealership is. Most of those blacked out words above are the dealer name. Blatant self-promotion with no car price!

The point of me showing you all these examples is so you are prepared. There’s no need to be discouraged by car dealer marketing emails. You will be very lucky if you get a real price when you first use a car price website. But the upside is we now have a salesman’s contact information for several dealerships and we just need to ask them to GET TO THE POINT AND GIVE US A PRICE!

Here is the email I used in response to these emails to ask for a specific price. You can create your own using this email sample.

Thank you for your reply. I'm interested in purchasing a new car within the next two weeks. Could you please provide a price for a 2016 Infiniti QX50 AWD with the Touring package? Please specify all applicable fees and add-ons including tax, tag, and title.

Again, I'm interested in acting quickly, so please provide as much information as possible on your available cars including the VIN#(s) so that I may make an informed decision.

Sincerely,
Geoff

This worked most of the time and I got prices for 5 dealerships through email.

Unfortunately, I did have to revert to phone calls to get prices from all 9 dealers. I used the phone numbers from the marketing emails I received to reach anyone that hadn't emailed me a usable price quote. On the phone, most salesman started by saying I should come by for a test drive. But I simply responded that I had already made up my mind and was trying to find out who would give me the best price. If you repeat this statement once or twice, you can usually make it a quick phone call.

Negotiating with car dealers over email

Once I had prices from everyone, I began the negotiating process.  Here is the email I used to negotiate.  You can create your own using this email sample.

Thank you for providing me with a quote of $XX for a new black 2016 Infiniti QX50 AWD with the Touring Package.  As I've mentioned, I'm planning to purchase a new car within the next week.  However, I have received a better offer from another dealership.  I was quoted $XX for a comparably equipped car with an MSRP of $XX.  This price includes the destination fee and all other dealer fees except for tax, tag, and title.

If you are able to beat this price, I would be interested in giving you my business.  Could you please let me know the best total price you are able to offer?

Again, I'm interested in acting quickly, so please provide as much information as possible on your available cars including the VIN#(s) so that I may make an informed decision.

Sincerely,
Geoff

I started with the dealers who gave me the worst prices and emailed two at a time and waited for responses. Slowly I received better and better car prices. Since I wasn’t in a rush, I decided to wait a little while. And it got really interesting on the last financial day of the year (Monday January 4th) and my phone started ringing off the hook with offers. As the day wore on, dealers got more and more desperate and lowered their prices with each call.

The reason is that dealers wanted to hit their year-end sales quotas and earn their bonuses (the same thing happens at month end). I would tell each one my current best price and ask if they could beat it. I said I’d make a decision at the end of the day and go with whoever had given me the best price.

One of the dealers who was a three hour drive from me offered me a crazy price well below invoice. I was ready to close the deal when a local dealer called me and said he would match the price AND the car he had in stock had a few extra options like illuminated kick plates, touneau cover and splash guards. I decided it was time to pull the trigger.

Here’s the final deal I got over email.

MSRP (suggested retail price):$42,735
Invoice (dealer cost):$40,017
Edmunds TMV estimate (best local deal):$41,724
TrueCar estimate (best local deal):$40,137

I paid $38,050 which beat both Edmunds and TrueCar estimates and was a savings off MSRP of $4,685!

Closing the deal

The local dealer gave me his price over the phone but I’m an advocate of never going to a dealership without an offer in writing.  So I asked him to send me a confirmation over email.  If you make this request over email, you can use this email sample.  He emailed me while we were on the phone and I agreed to show up that same evening provided I got a reasonable price for my trade-in.

Trade In

Stepping back to before I started the email car buying process, I wanted to know how much my trade-in was worth on the open market.  So I went to my local Carmax.  I had a 15-year-old Saab which I’m sad to say only resulted in a $500 offer.  For convenience and a small tax credit, I decided I would wait and sell it to the Infiniti dealership.

As I was closing the deal I told my salesman on the phone about my Carmax quote and surprisingly, he offered to match it sight-unseen.   If your used car is worth more than $500 you’ll probably do better negotiating your trade-in at the dealership, but in my case it was not worth the hassle to me or the dealership.

I also learned a very important lesson when trading in my car.  Always check your trunk!  I thought my car was empty, but I had forgotten an expensive tennis racquet and didn’t realize it until a couple days later.   Fortunately, the car had not been taken to auction yet and I was able to drive back to the dealership and pick it up.   The dealership hadn’t bothered to check the trunk until I called either!

Picking up the Car

With my trade-in and car price settled, it was time to stop by the dealership and pick up my car.

When I showed up I remember my salesman bubbling with joy that he was able to get one last sale in for the year.   He confiding to me saying, “I’m taking a blood bath on this car but I need to get this last sale closed to reach my bonus”.  Even though he didn’t make money on my deal, he got a much bigger year-end bonus so it was a win/win for both of us!

We traded keys and he handed my old car off to his mechanic to make sure it would start.  Then he spent about 30 minutes showing me all the features of my new car and reviewing the deal.  So far the process was smooth sailing!

Finance Office

After I was done inspecting my new car and confirming the deal it was time for me to talk to the Finance Manager.  This is when most people let down their guard thinking negotiations are done and they get suckered into paying for expensive add-on’s and extras.

Up until now, I had a pre-negotiated deal and my dealership experience was exceptional.  Unfortunately, that all ended in the Finance Office.  There’s no way (yet) for car buyers to avoid the Finance Office experience, so you’ll just have to power your way through it like I did.

The Finance Manager sat me down and walked me through signing my name on dozens of the typical documents.  It was hard to believe how many papers I had to sign even though I was paying cash and didn’t need to fill out loan documentation.

Then, as expected, she pitched me on buying extras.   I got the hard sell to buy additional warranties and extras and was literally shamed when I politely declined.  She quickly went from cordial and pleasant to glaring and rude.  Keep in mind the car already comes with a 4-year/60,000 mile basic warranty & 6-year/70,000 mile powertrain warranty, so the extra warranties were unnecessary as far as I’m concerned.    She wanted me to spend an additional $5,000 and was shocked when I didn’t accept.

I stuck to my guns and said in a friendly way that I was not interested in an extended warranty.   I did have to repeat myself several times before she would stop asking.

The one small highlight of the Finance Office was that I was allowed to put $5,000 down on a rewards credit card to earn points.  This is a great tip as long as you remember to pay off your card immediately (which I did).  So in my case I was able to earn 1% cash back which resulted in an extra $50.   I do want to strongly recommend that you should not use a credit card if you can’t pay it off right away as a car loan will typically give you much better rates.

Conclusion

On my ride home I was able to shake off the Finance Office experience and enjoy driving my new Infiniti QX50.  Overall I was able to get an amazing deal negotiating my car over email as shown in the window sticker below.  Without a doubt, the car buying hacks on this site are still the best way to buy a car.

Car Buying Hack Savings

Want to buy a car near (or below) dealer cost?

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how to buy a car onlineInternet car buyerYou'll learn:
  • How to buy a car at the best possible price (by making dealers compete)
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